5Qs: The Washington Post’s Vijay Ravindran

The Washington Post Co., the holding company of the Washington Post newspaper has carved out a distinct identity from the flagship newspaper, with cable companies, SocialCode, a digital agency, and Trove, a news aggregation service. Although the newspaper division has struggled like most in the industry, the company’s online revenue increased 8 percent to $25.7 million over $23.7 million in the first quarter of last year. The company’s CDO, Vijay Ravidran, spoke to DIGIDAY about the evolution of the industry and The Washington Post’s vision of the future of online media.

Will having a handle on analytics and solid data be a major factor in determining which companies, content brands or retail, survive?
The answer is a resounding yes. Digital businesses have to become data and analytics experts to navigate the unique challenges that each of these businesses have. When I look at the Washington Post or Slate as websites and digital businesses I know that they have to implement their expertise in analytics, data warehousing and all aspects of data management in order to be competitive. Throughout our company our ability as to leverage data and to become experts on the data within our respective business units, as well as our ability to utilize that data effectively is increasingly becoming a key determinant of success, not just for our company, but for companies of any size.
Will better analytics and data expertise make content more sticky and more relevant on the user-experience end or is it just a shot in the dark?
We have a lot of examples of how we are doing that. We just launched Trove, a platform which we are using to find high-quality content across the web and to bring more personalized content in front of users. We are finding ways to utilize information from Facebook profiles to find content that may be of interest to consumers. Every one of our businesses need to take advantage of these techniques of using data and analytics to provide value. Imagine that you are in a room 15 years ago and someone was pitching you on text keyword ads for a search engine. It would have sounded crazy. Now people are seeing the relevance of data-driven strategy. They are seeing how critical data expertise is.
Won’t a flood of granular data lead brands and content companies to target blindly if they start seeing results from more personalized content? Is that any better than a dumb pipe of data?
Using analytics is about getting to a higher level of efficiency and a higher level of ROI. An ad that is hyper-personalized to you will have less effect if its shown to you four times. Four different ads that are less personalized will have a better effect because the impact dissipates after several exposures, you just don’t want to see the same ad over and over again. But not all data leads to more targeting, more precise personalization. If you go too far with using targeted content, then consumers will cease to respond.
So how deep will this digital convergence trend go? We have multiple screens, we have newspapers flocking online and to mobile, will we also have more companies demanding all-in-one digital solutions for content, advertising and data management?
Convergence is happening in lots of different ways across the board and consumers are beginning to demand that — multiple screen, high-quality content — from their content providers. On the advertising side, the innovation that occurs will be chasing the maximum ROI, and that leads to more convergence-centered advertising products. But advertisers aren’t going to pay for something that isn’t working, that isn’t transparent. Advertisers need to see clearly what return they are getting for their ad spend.
Is there any street-level value to these giant companies handling content, analytics and advertising?
Absolutely. We want all of our business units to function independently and thrive on their own merits. But when we are talking to a large brand they know that it isn’t just about maximizing affinities or getting a larger ad buy. We have so many interrelationships with brands in our portfolio. So when we talk to a large brand about using a service, like SocialCode, they know that they can trust us more than an independent start-up because we have so many relationships across different industries. At a more basic level the honor of the Washington Post Company is on the line when we are recommending that a brand work with one of our companies, like SocialCode. We are able to bring a higher level of responsibility to our activities.

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